Folks often ask what’s my favorite angling spot on the Shenandoah River. Quite honestly, I don’t have one. I could talk about being utterly surprised by a 19” rainbow trout dancing on the end of my 5wt fly rod up on Hawksbill Creek some thirty-odd years ago, back when I still had a full head of hair and before I even knew there were trout in Hawksbill Creek. Or maybe helping my then five-year-old daughter catch sunfish just a stone’s throw of the Bentonville Low Water Bridge.
Spots change. Little honey holes get filled in, that amazing submerged gravel bar that held smallmouth bass for years is now devoid of stargrass and is close to being a watery desert. So, I truly do not have a favorite spot.
Instead, I recommend that you keep your canoe or kayak out of the shed a little longer and treat yourself to my favorite time to be out on the water fishing – and that’s during autumn. My reasons reflect both my passion for the river and my dedication as a Riverkeeper. That is, I appreciate the quietude that comes with the fall — fewer people are paddling and angling so your confidence level is high that fishing spots have been untouched by previous anglers. But take the time to look around. You are likely gazing upon a view unchanged for two hundred years ago and it’s humbling as the past, present and future are all inextricably linked while on the river.
During the fall, as I slip my kayak blade into the Shenandoah, the truly magical beauty of autumn foliage emerges. Yellow locust leaves flutter down like confetti while iridescent red maples wave at you from the hillside. And, when I peer into the water after the first hard frost, gin clear water greets me, because the chilly air temperatures have lowered the water temps and killed much of the free-floating planktonic algae, which is so persistently and annoyingly present during the summer.
That’s how it is with fishing. It’s not the spots, it’s those moments of discovery we remember most and treasure deeply. Like when my now 28-year old daughter borrowed my kayak this summer, carried it to the water’s edge, shoved off for an evening float back to the cabin all by her lonesome, to uncover her own discoveries.
None of this would happen without a clean river.
I recommend autumn on the Shenandoah to you.